Sunday, July 19, 2015

Becoming Savvy at 53

Tomorrow is my 53rd birthday.  I like setting goals on my birthday; my New Year's resolutions are usually long forgotten, so my birthday is a good time to reassess and come up with new goals for the remainder of the year.

While brainstorming goals for this year, I reread my birthday post from last year. I had a little chuckle over the title, “Career Reinvention at 52,” thinking that didn’t work out so well. But as I read the post, I realized every word still applies to my life today except my retirement goal has been pushed out another year.  I still work too much – probably more this year than last as I struggled to find at adequate replacement after my employee resigned.  My workouts became fewer and fewer until I dropped my gym membership altogether and my diet has gotten worse. The good news is my company has approved an additional hire for my department, so hopefully my work load will improve in the future.

I would still like to retire early from my job and spend my time doing something more rewarding.  My plan last year was to follow James Altucher's The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Reinventing Yourself. He says it takes five years to reinvent yourself.  Here is his recommended five-year plan:
  • Year One: you’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to DO.
  • Year Two: you know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re Doing every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
  • Year Three: you’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
  • Year Four: you’re making a good living
  • Year Five: you’re making wealth
In my 52nd year, I planned to read everything and start to Do.  Altucher claims reading 200-500 books are equal to one good mentor.  I finished 19 books last year and have to admit many of them were largely forgettable, so as I begin my 53rd year I am still at step one of the reinvention cycle.    I’ve always been a late bloomer, so for my 53rd year my goal is to

Become “savvier.”  I plan to do this by continuing my goal to read 200-500 books.  Only I hope to pick better books.

I am also adding Altucher’s suggestion to get your idea muscle in shape.  To do this he recommends coming up with 10 ideas a day.  As you do this the muscle will grow, you will be able to come up with more ideas and the ideas will get better.

What books have helped you become savvier?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Racism in My Community

I wrote at the beginning of the year, I’m considering rebranding this blog. One of the topics I’ve contemplated is “becoming Savvy” or “getting a clue.” I came up with the idea after reading an interview with Susan Jane Gilman where she describes her book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Cluelessas a series of essays on getting a clue about her naiveté.

I am the queen of naiveté. I grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin where the only sources I had for learning about the outside world were school, church, television – only CBS though since our reception couldn’t pick up NBC or ABC - and from books. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until later in adult life I realized these sources usually presented an ideal or white-washed version of the real world. 

While listing topics for my new “Getting a Clue Blog, racism along with feminism are always at the top of the list. It was rare for me to encounter people who weren’t white in my community during the 60’s and 70’s. The one and only time I remember seeing someone with darker skin was while visiting a nearby town with my Grandma. We were sitting in her car on a sweltering July day (probably waiting for my Dad to return from the feed store) when she said, “Quick roll up the windows and duck down. There are colored folks over there who’ll steal from us if they see you” I remember doing what she said, but only after sneaking a peek at this man and his son.

I learned about the civil rights movement in social studies and was taught God loves everyone equally at church. I believed our country had moved on from racism and that my Grandma was an anomaly. She was old, didn’t get out much and didn’t know better. In the eighties I went to see the film Mississippi Burning and was reassured the world had changed and my country had moved on from all that. 

That was until a few years ago, before the Trevon Martin incident. I was relaying bad news from a company I work with to a respected member of my community. This person is an educated, religious, wealthy, older white male. Upon hearing my news, he went into a rage swearing and spewing hatred towards every person he had ever dealt with at this company, even referring to a former employee of this company with a racial slur.

I was shocked. I stood there completely tongue-tied unable to believe my ears. I had been wrong. When this man singled out a person of color with the “n” word I realized not only did racism still exist, but I was looking right at it. This man may think he's good at hiding it, but racism and hatred are alive in his psyche. 

I was reminded of him this week as I read numerous articles and blog posts discussing how racism continues to be a huge problem in our society; in response to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Racism is not a topic I can easily write about. I feel I don’t know enough about it to write truthfully and intelligently. But I can tell you this, racism does exist and is more prevalent than I thought possible. It exists not just in our segregated cities and in the south. It is in the north, in our suburban communities, in our places of employment, in our churches, our charities, and our families. I would like to think the children of the man I spoke to above would have been appalled and embarrassed if they had heard his words, but I will never know for sure.

Another key element of my “Becoming Savvy” blog is to write about books that have made me a more informed person. A book I’ve been meaning to read for this project is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.

Mocha Mama, one of my favorite bloggers covering racism, writes:
There aren't many books that I would recommend be a part of a mandated curriculum in teaching History (because there are a great many to be sure) but one that I cannot stop thinking about is Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. It is remarkable in scope and one cannot help but consider that movement, The Great Migration, in shaping cities and labor issues and the construction of what came to be known as the ghetto and the gentrification of those cities later on in history. Wilkerson herself has called that Migration "the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century.

I plan to read The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration next month. Will you join me?
Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate


Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Pay off Your Parent’s Mortgage?


My Parents divorced when my Mom was 55. One of the first things she did after securing full-time employment was to purchase a condo. Despite refinancing her mortgage for a more favorable interest rate (than the outrageous balloon she originally incurred) and a shorter mortgage term she still owed $60,000 of principle when she was forced to retire at age 75. She quickly discovered with almost no accumulated savings, making ends meet on a fixed income with a mortgage was difficult.

My siblings and I began discussing how we could assist her in paying off her mortgage, then recoup our investment when she eventually sold it.

My mom met with an elder care lawyer to discuss deeding her condo to her children. I knew it had become more difficult to transfer property since President Bush had signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (this Act increased Medicaid’s look back period from three years to five), but was surprised when the lawyer flat out refused to help us. She said with my mom having virtually no savings she would be ineligible for Medicaid for the next five years until every penny of equity transferred to us had been paid to her nursing home. What if her children couldn’t come up with this money? She refused to put my mom in that situation. 

We asked, “What if my mom doesn’t need nursing home care in the next five years?”
The lawyer didn’t care, she felt my mom’s condo equity should remain with my mom to cover her long term care or other expenses whenever they may occur. The discussion was over.

$60,000 split four ways was too great of an expense for my siblings and I to handle. There were spouses and grand-children to consider, child-care expenses and our own mortgages; $15,000 was a lot of money to hand over to your mother-in-law with no guarantee of ever getting it back. We explored other options such as selling the condo and having my mom rent or live with one of us, but she wasn’t ready for that. Plus, monthly rental payments cost almost as much as her mortgage expense. Instead, my brother reviewed all of her bills and cut every unnecessary expense. It literally made us sick to see how she had been taken advantage of over the years by cable companies, insurance agents, car repairmen, investment advisors, etc. When he finished her monthly expenses were manageable.
Her condo will be paid off next February and I’m confident she’ll make it.

I was reminded of my mom’s mortgage when my husband and I met with a Wisconsin title employee last week. As the representative was going over our mortgage paperwork she said something about it not being a good idea for our children to make our loan payments. Instead, she recommended they refinance the mortgage in their own names if they wanted to make payments.

After the closing was over, I asked her to explain what she meant about children refinancing the mortgage in their own names and if this was the preferred method for a child to pay off their parent’s mortgage.

She actually recommended children not pay off their parent’s mortgage and if needed do so only if:
- A written agreement was drafted by a lawyer and signed by the parent and the child prior to the child making any payments.

- All siblings were aware of the agreement and a written repayment plan was discussed and agreed upon by all siblings.

- Every mortgage payment was made with a paper trail. Never give a parent cash to make a payment.

She knows of several children (including herself) who paid mortgages and other expenses on behalf of their parents assuming they would be reimbursed from their parent’s estate only to have these repayments disputed by siblings. Lawyers were involved, the child was never reimbursed and the siblings no longer speak to each other.

Her bottom line advice on how to pay off your parent’s mortgage:

Don’t do it.

Have you or your siblings paid expenses on behalf of your parents? Has it been a favorable experience?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Switching my Goal to Financial Independence

This week a 60-year old asked me, “How much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?”  I answered 1.2 million.

That was the number I had initially come up with for myself last fall when my husband decided to retire at the end of 2014.  The initial plan was for me to join him in retirement when our total liquid assets reached 1 million.  I added the $200,000 to cover taxes on our 401(k) distributions after hearing horror stories from a couple that didn’t plan for taxes on their 401(k) money.

The 60-year old has been asking this question to everyone he knows.  Most answers fall between $1 and $2 million.  For himself, he thinks he and his wife need between $3 and $4 million. His plan is to retire at 63.  He recently bought a condo in Florida on a golf course where he will spend the winters. He will sell his home in Wisconsin and buy a condo here where he will live in the summers.  His only hobby is golf.  He can play for free at his Florida condo.  His company offers retiree health care and he will receive a pension.

$3 to $4 million!  If that is what a couple needs to retire comfortably I will never be able to retire. 

Which is why I am changing my goal from retiring early to financial independence.  In addition to saving for retirement, I am going to spend the next 5-6 years building an alternative income stream to supplement our retirement funds.

In other news, I had to let my temp go last week for underperformance and am starting over on Monday with a new employee.  My boss told me not to count on having much of a summer…

Financial independence is looking very attractive right now.  What steps are you doing to create financial independence?

Also, how much money do you think the average couple needs to retire?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What to Read for a Female Mid-Life Crisis?

In my post, Ride of Your Life, I wrote about Ran Zilca’s book Ride of Your Life: A Coast-to-Coast Guide to Finding Inner Peace. He was turning 40, and had been successful in business and his personal life, but was unsure who he really was. I think that many people experience this type of feeling in midlife, where they know what they do and where they live, but not exactly sure who they are. It made him feel restless, so he went out to rediscover his identity, quiet the restlessness, and regain his inner peace.

In response to this post, I received the following comment from Ray:
I am going to seriously consider reading this book and hear is why. I am in the 40's and I wonder to myself more and more, who am I? I started to write the blog partly to answer that...... I think I need to read, and find my inner self, and come to some peace as well.

Thoughts on this? Or if one should try another book?
Oh what a comment. I have so many thoughts.

First should Ray read this book?
Sure go ahead, it can’t hurt. I read this one in a PDF format on my e-reader and think I’d have gotten more out of it if I’d read it in print. I love dog-earing pages to review later and wasn’t able to do that with this book. I think I missed a few points especially towards the end.

As for self-help books:
I don't usually finish them. I wasn't even able to finish The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey and How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnagie both of which are on a list of self-help books that stand the test of time at my local library.

Another interesting quote from Ride of your Life:
This one is from Dr. Jamie Pennebaker, Chair of the Psychology department at The University of Texas in Austin:

All of self-help is bullshit and probably most of psychology.

His recommendation:

Show me the money. Show me whatever you’ve got – does it work? Does it work for you? One thing I encourage everybody is to be their own inner scientist: you have to find out what’s really working.

Zilca feels most people are not always good at accessing how well it works for them. In response, Pennebaker suggest that people take their “life pulse” every day.

Well, then you start to measure. You start to write down how many hours of sleep you are getting. You write down how you feel today. Are you sick? What’s your body temperature? There are a million ways to evaluate how your life is going. And yes, we are all delusional about things, but measuring things is not a bad idea. What’s your heart rate and your blood pressure today? How many calories are you eating? How much exercise are you getting? How many fights have you gotten into with friends and coworkers? Make a list of things that are important to you – ideally, things that you can objectively measure. Take your life-pulse every day, see how it’s going. And if it does, that’s wonderful and if it doesn’t, get in line. Most things really don’t work. (Pgs. 82 and 83).
He then suggests using writing to gain clarity about events in your life, their meaning and the way you chose to respond.

So yes dear Ray, read this book and keep blogging it may work for you.

Other book recommendations:
Most of the books I’ve read on self-discovery were tailored towards career discovery.

Here are the ones that helped the most:
Dan Miller's book 48 Days To The Work You Love

Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger's book Do What You Are

Tom Rath's book Strengths Finder 2.0

One of my favorite self-discovery books is Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

While searching for additional books covering female identity crisis I came across this article in Psychology Today What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like.  This article mirrors my experience perfectly:
The women in the article have not faced a crisis, but they are facing a mid-life quest for identity. For smart, goal-driven women, a mid-life crisis isn't about recovering lost youth. It's about discovering the application of their greatness. The problem is that no one has defined what "greatness" looks like so the quest has no specific destination.

If you are questioning what is next for your career and possibly, your life, this is a great time to talk to friends who might be going through a similar experience. One of the worst things busy women do is put their friendships on the back burner. There is no need to "tough it out on your own." Find a friend who is also interested in personal development who won't judge the struggle you are experiencing. A good coach can help as well.
I'm considering bringing back "The Savvy Reader Book Club" with a self acceptance or mid-life crisis theme.  Would you be interested?  For starters I'd suggest we read What A Female Mid-Life Crisis Looks Like.

What books would you recommend for a female mid-life crisis or acceptance book club?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Does Your Husband Take Care of You?

My Aunt, a product of the 1950’s, suggested I look for a husband who will take care of me after I broke up with my boyfriend of seven years. During this time my former boyfriend rarely held a job and was well on his way to becoming a professional student.  (This was back in the eighties before tuition became so outrageously expensive). I could see my family hoping my next boyfriend at least had a job, but to be taken care of!  That concept seemed so old-fashioned to me.

As a teen in the seventies, I dreamed of having it all (like in the Enjoli commercial I grew up with). Plus, I strongly valued my financial independence.  I had been earning my own money since my first babysitting job at twelve years old.  I wasn’t going to stop doing so now.
Also, my parents weren’t the best of role models.  I know my aunt envied my mom for being able to stay home with her children while we were growing up, but my mom had never been “taken care of.”  Instead, she had been controlled; both financially and mentally during her marriage.  She was given grocery money when needed, but other than that my dad decided how every penny was spent.  If my mom wanted something he didn’t approve of she had to take money from her grocery fund or do without. She longed for a job and money of her own.  I wanted a better life for myself.

As to my aunt, she was the first woman I knew who worked outside the home.  Her husband had a good state job, but she liked the finer things in life.  To pay for these extras she had to work. Today at seventy-five she still works part-time while her husband retired from his state job years ago.
Fast forward five years.  I had recently married my husband and we were both attending a party with my extended family.  Another aunt noticed my new car and began gushing over it and my new husband’s ability to take care of me.  How fortunate I was to have made such a good catch.  I was furious.  I had spent the past five years working full-time while going to school.  I had just passed the CPA exam, secured a new job with a bigger salary and bought that new car.  The down payment had come from my savings and the loan was in my name, not my husbands. I was disappointed that of all my accomplishments and hard work, the only recognition I received was for supposedly marrying well.

As for this aunt, her third husband has leukemia and is too sick to work.  I recently saw a photo of her on Facebook selling her hand-made items in a booth at a craft fair.  She too is in her seventies.
Fast forward another fifteen years.  I am attending a holiday celebration with my husband’s family.
His 28-year old niece models her new winter coat; a gift from her new husband.  She says, “He knows how to take care of me.” Again I am surprised by this old-fashioned phrase and that it is coming from someone twenty years younger than me.  Plus, this young woman has a college degree and a better job than her new husband.

During my almost seventeen years of marriage, there have been years when my husband made more than me and others when I made more than him.  I’ve never once considered myself “taken care of” and I don’t think that is something he ever aspired to do.  I do feel he supports me emotionally and is an incredible help with the household chores. I do feel controlled though, but not by my husband. Instead, I'm controlled by my job, the stress that comes with it and the incredible work load. 
I wonder currently if the phrase, “he’ll take care of you” isn’t just wishful thinking.  Today with the high cost of tuition, housing and medical care it has become almost a necessity for both spouses to work at least a portion of their marriage outside the home. I look at my husband’s young niece and can’t help but think wouldn’t it be nice if she didn’t have to work as hard as I do and that she is able to enjoy more of life.  Perhaps that is what both my aunts were thinking when they made those comments to me.  As to my husband’s niece, perhaps she was saying her husband may make less than her but, he still knows what her needs are or how to take care of her.

Does your husband take care of you? 

This post was inspired by Spinster: Making a Life of One's Ownby Kate Bolick, who explores singledom with famous women who fashioned life on their own terms. Join From Left to Write on May 5th as we discuss Spinster. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stop Using the Fax Machine if You Want to Appear Relevant

This morning I read a great post from Bob Lowry of A Satisfying Retirement. Bob recently read Graeme Thomson’s book George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door a biography of George Harrison. In his post, Lowry writes about the similarities he shares with Harrison. Here is the parallel Lowry makes between his career and Harrisons:
My tie to this story and his life? For the last 6-8 years of my radio consulting business did not evolve. I stayed with the same message, the same ideas, and the same approach that had proved so successful for me through the 1980's into the mid 90's. Even though my industry had changed dramatically, I stopped learning and listening. I didn't change my message or my methods. As a result, my business slowly slipped away until, in the same year that George Harrison died, I found myself faced with retirement, several years before I would have felt financially more secure. I had been passed by. I had stopped changing and found my approach irrelevant.

This post got me thinking about how to stay relevant in the workplace. My company has lost several employees this year to early retirement. When asked why they were leaving, they all responded the same way; their jobs were too stressful and they felt they couldn’t keep up with the changing technology. They weren't forced to retire, but I did hear grumblings about them and their failure to embrace change in meetings. Some managers had recommended phasing these employees out. Fortunately, other managers knew their value and protected them.

How do you know you are becoming irrelevant?

You still use the fax machine:
Last week during a meeting with our bank’s relationship manager, she recommended we stop receiving wire confirmations via fax. This service was costing our company $15 per fax while an email confirmation was free. This led to a conversation about how the fax machine was obsolete, expensive, inefficient etc. Our bank account manager has even contemplated removing his fax number from his business card. He only gets a couple of faxes a month and they are credit confirmations. I immediately knew why this was happening. His clients hadn’t updated their credit reference sheet which still listed fax numbers. (I may be one of them).

My former employee who despised and fought change with a passion was the only employee in our department to still use the fax machine on a regular basis. Every time I walked past the fax machine I’d pick up her faxes then drop them off at her desk. Her replacement refuses to use the fax machine. She also dislikes voice mail and instructs almost everyone who calls her to email her in the future.

You can’t find files after you save them:
Recently my company transferred our computer's data to a new server. During the process our IT manager complained about one of our employees, “She never takes classes to improve her skills or learn better ways to do her job.” His gripe: she didn’t know how to use windows and hadn’t been saving her Microsoft files to the server. I knew right away what she was doing wrong, since I used to do the same thing. When saving files that had been emailed to her she just hit save rather than moving the files to her documents folder and then saving them. My former employee from above used to do the same thing and I and my co-workers were constantly helping her find her files.

After this conversation I suggested our outside computer consultant conduct a class on windows for our administrative staff. He wasn’t keen on the idea saying everyone younger than 45 would be bored. Since most of the employees that struggled with windows have now left the company, this class is now on hold.

If you struggle with windows I suggest you take a class. They offer them at most tech schools, also some libraries and employment agencies offer them at minimal cost or for free.

You are still using the original version of your company’s software; new employees are no longer trained on this software and it doesn’t have the latest software enhancements.
All of the employees who retired early were using the old, outdated version of our company’s software.

You don’t know how to use pivot tables in excel:
A few weeks ago one of my gym buddies, who works in health care, approached me at the gym to tell me she had started using pivot tables and that she loves them. “Hmm… pivot tables doesn’t that have something to do with graphing.” She told me this knowing I’m an accountant and assuming I used them. I said something like great! Then went back to my workout. Afterwards I found an 8-hour class offered by my professional organization on pivot tables and considered signing up, but it is offered the same day as my scheduled doctor’s appointment. You know what a hassle it is to reschedule doctor's appointments, so I didn't sign-up. Someday my department will be filled with 25-year olds whispering behind my back, “She doesn’t know how to use pivot tables.”

Speaking of irrelevant, I still have blogspot in my blog’s URL:
How long have I been blogging? Too long to not have my own domain name. I have an excuse though – I want a domain I can continue to grow and work with throughout the remainder of my blogging career. This year I’m trying out different topics other than work and careers to see what I am comfortable with. With this post – on relevancy – I feel I’m one step closer.

How do you stay relevant?